Obama Still Stumps on 2002 Anti-War Declaration In 2002, when Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) was a state senator, he spoke at a rally protesting the impending Iraq war. Though it drew little fanfare then, his speech has become a campaign cornerstone.
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Obama Still Stumps on 2002 Anti-War Declaration

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Obama Still Stumps on 2002 Anti-War Declaration

Obama Still Stumps on 2002 Anti-War Declaration

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Yesterday, we heard how Senator Hillary Clinton is still explaining her vote to give the president that authority. Today, NPR's Don Gonyea examines what Obama claims as his key moment on the war.

DON GONYEA: Let's go back to the 2nd day of October in 2002. Here's what was on NPR's newscast that morning.

MONTAGNE: Former Enron CFO Andrew Fastow turned himself in.


Martha Stewart's troubles with Wall Street are mounting.

MONTAGNE: Northwest Airlines announced more job cutbacks today.

GONYEA: That same afternoon, President Bush was in the Rose Garden at the White House.

GEORGE W: Saddam must disarm. Period. If, however, he chooses to do otherwise, if he persists in his defiance, the use of force may become unavoidable.

GONYEA: The scene was Federal Plaza, with its giant orange Calder sculpture looming over the proceedings. The roster of speakers included a future presidential front-runner, who was then a little-known state senator.

BARACK OBAMA: I don't oppose war in all circumstances. And when I look out over this crowd today, I know there is no shortage of patriots, or of patriotism. What I do oppose is a dumb war.

GONYEA: Here he is from earlier this month.


OBAMA: On the most important national security question since the Cold War, I'm the only candidate who opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning.

GONYEA: Of course, Senator Clinton dismisses Obama's early opposition to the war and the Chicago speech.


HILLARY CLINTON: I have a lifetime of experience that I will bring to the White House. I know Senator McCain has a lifetime of experience that he will bring to the White House. And Senator Obama has a speech he gave in 2002.

GONYEA: Obama counters that the speech demonstrates his sound judgment. Further, he says it shows the kind of political courage a president needs. He says it was risky to give such a speech barely a year after the 9/11 attacks and while President Bush was still riding high in the polls.

OBAMA: My objections to the war in Iraq were not simply a speech. I was in the midst of a U.S. Senate campaign. It was a high-stakes campaign. I was one of the most vocal opponents of the war. And I was very specific...

GONYEA: Interestingly, even in this YouTube, camera-phone age, finding a recording of this speech is all but impossible. That small portion you heard at the start of this story, 13 seconds in length, is all NPR could find. The Obama campaign has gone so far as to re-create portions of the speech for a TV ad, with the candidate re-reading the text, complete with audience sound effects.

OBAMA: I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames in the Middle East.

GONYEA: Marilyn Katz was one of the event's organizers.

MARILYN KATZ: The profound nature of his remarks, the taking of a crowd through a thought process by which he had come to the conclusion of why he would be against the war was transformative.

GONYEA: But Juan Andrade, president of the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute in Chicago, was less impressed. Andrade said he's seen Obama give great speeches, most notably to the 2004 Democratic Convention, but the '02 anti-war speech wasn't one of them.

JUAN ANDRADE: There was nothing magic about it. There was nothing out of that speech that would have given anybody any sense that he was going places. We were just glad that he was one of those who was willing to step up at a time when very few people seemed to be willing to do that.

GONYEA: So, just how much attention did this speech attract? Journalist Bill Glauber covered the rally for the Chicago Tribune. He met us last week at the site of the event.

BILL GLAUBER: I'm the guy who didn't quote Barack Obama at his famous anti-war speech. He was not the main guy on the dais.

GONYEA: And let's be clear - not only did you not quote him, you didn't mention him.

GLAUBER: Didn't mention him at all. Met him, didn't mention him.

GONYEA: As for the risk Obama says giving that speech was, David Mendell, who has written a new biography of Obama, says that's debatable.

DAVID MENDELL: I still don't think it was an inordinate risk here in Illinois, where you have a very blue-stated crowd here in Illinois. So I might - yeah, you might take issue with just how risky it was.

GONYEA: Don Gonyea, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: To hear an extended interview with the Illinois journalist who attended Obama's 2002 anti-war speech, go to npr.org/elections.

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